Lakes are bodies of water surrounded by land except for outlets or inlets in the form of rivers or streams that drain or feed the lakes respectively. Lakes are larger and deeper when compared to the bodies of water we refer to as ponds. Lakes can be freshwater or saline. It is estimated that there are around 2 million lakes across the globe. They are found in a wide variety of habitats and at different elevations.
Lakes can be formed as a result of tectonic, volcanic, or even glacial activities, but intentional and accidental human activities have also created and destroyed many lakes. Most of the world’s largest lakes are in North America. In the distant past, the region was covered by glaciers and many of these lakes here have glacial origins.
Below is a list of the 10 largest lakes on Earth.
10. Great Slave Lake - 28,930 Square Kilometers
Not only is The Great Slave Lake the 10th largest lake in the world, but it is also North America's deepest lake with a maximum depth of 614 meters. It is 2nd largest lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The lake is 480 km long, its width ranges from 19 to 109 km, and it covers a surface area of 28,930 square kilometers. The Hay River is the primary inflow, while the main outflow is the Mackenzie River. Situated far north at an elevation of around 156 meters, the Great Slave Lake’s surface is frozen for most of the year.
9. Lake Malawi - 30,044 Square Kilometers
Lake Malawi, also referred to as Lago Niassa in Mozambique and Lake Nyasa in Tanzania, is a spectacular African lake. Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi are the basin countries of this lake. It is the southernmost lake in the East African Rift system. It is the 9th largest lake in the world with a total surface area of 30,044 square kilometers. Lake Malawi also holds the distinction of being the 3rd largest and the 2nd deepest lake in Africa. Lake Malawi has a length of 579 km, an average depth of 292 m, and a maximum depth of 706 m. The primary inflow of Lake Malawi is the Ruhuhu River, and the primary outflow is the Shire River at its southern end. Lake Malawi was formed at an elevation of about 500 meters above sea level due to tectonic activity. It is a meromictic lake (a lake with surface and deep-water layers that don’t intermix). It is also famous for being the lake that hosts the highest number of species of fish in the world, including almost 1,000 cichlid species.
8. Great Bear Lake - 31,080 Square Kilometers
Located 200 km south of the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories of Canada, the Great Bear Lake is the fourth largest in North America. It is 320 km long, and up to 175 km wide. The deepest point of this glacial lake is 446 m. The average depth of the lake is 71.7 m. The Great Bear Lake has 26 islands that cover a combined area of 759.3 square kilometers. Great Bear’s primary outflow is the Great Bear River. The surface of the lake is at a height of 186 m above sea level, and it is known for unbearably cold temperatures in the winter months.
7. Lake Baikal - 31,500 Square Kilometers
Lake Baikal, also called “Nature’s Lake,” is a rift lake (lakes formed due to movements within a tectonic rift zone) situated in Russia’s southern Siberia region. Lake Baikal is the world’s largest ice-free freshwater lake and contains around 20% of the world’s total freshwater. It is also considered to be one of the clearest lakes in the world. It has a total surface area of 31,500 square kilometers. It is also the world’s largest lake by volume, and the world’s deepest lake. It may even be one of the oldest lakes on our planet, with an age estimated to be no less than 25 million years. The average depth of this lake is 744.4 m, with its deepest point being 1642 meters (rift lakes are typically deeper compared to non-rift ones, due to the depths of the rifts formed by tectonic movements which the waters fill). It is called the “Galapagos of Russia" as it is home to numerous endemic species. The basin of Lake Baikal is situated entirely in Russia. The Barguzin, Selenge and Upper Angara Rivers are the primary sources of inflow for the lake. The Angara River drains it.
6. Lake Tanganyika - 32,893 Square Kilometers
Lake Tanganyika is also an African Great Lake. It is located in the highlands of Africa. The Ruzizi, Kalamboo, and Malagarai rivers feed the lake. It is the 2nd deepest and 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world by volume. The basin of the lake includes parts of Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lake Tanganyika is the world’s 6th largest lake by area. It has a surface area of 32,893 square kilometers, an average depths of 570 m, and a maximum depth of 1470 m. Tectonic movements led to the formation of this lake.
5. Lake Michigan - 58,016 Square Kilometers
Lake Michigan is one of the North American Great Lakes. However, unlike the others that span the US-Canada border, it is situated entirely within the US. It has a surface area of 57,800 square kilometers. It is 494 km long and 190 km wide and has over 2,575 km of shoreline. The average depth of the lake is 85 m. It has a maximum depth of 282 m. It traces its origin to glacial activity.
4. Lake Huron - 59,596 Square Kilometers
Located on the US-Canada border, Lake Huron is also a North American Great Lake. It is world’s 4th largest lake and the 3rd largest freshwater lake. It has a surface area of 59,596 square kilometers. Lake Huron is 331 km long and 295 km wide. The deepest point of the lake is 229 m below surface, and its average depth is 59 m. Like the other Great Lakes, Lake Huron was formed due to the glacial activity. The Mackinac Strait and Saint Mary’s River are its primary inflows. Lake Huron is also home to the Manitoulin Island, the Largest 'lake island’ in the world.
3. Lake Victoria - 69,485 Square Kilometers
Lake Victoria is Africa's largest lake and the world’s largest tropical lake. It occupies a surface area of 69,485 square kilometers. Named after Queen Victoria, it is one of the African Great Lakes and is fed by inflows from the Kagera River. Lake Victoria is relatively shallow with an average depth of 40 m and a maximum depth of 84 m. It has 84 islands.
2. Lake Superior - 82,414 Square Kilometers
Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, the 3rd largest lake by volume, and the 2nd largest lake of any kind by surface area in the world. Lake Superior is a North American Great Lake with a surface area of 82,414 square kilometers. Lake Superior has a maximum depth of 406 m. Water from Lake Superior drains into Lake Huron via the St. Mary’s River and the Soo Locks.
1. Caspian Sea - 371,000 Square Kilometers
The Caspian Sea is technically the largest lake in the world. It is the world's biggest enclosed inland water body, with a total surface area of 371,000 square kilometers. It holds 78,200 cubic km of water. The Caspian Sea is also the 3rd-deepest lake in the world. The deepest part of the lake is 1,025 m below surface. The average depth is 211 m. The Caspian Sea has an “endorheic basin” as it has no outflows. Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Azerbaijan are the basin countries of this lake. The Volga, Ural, Terek, and Kura Rivers are some of the lake's inflows.